Volte-faceFree-visa-free-ticket issue should address the costs of all the aspects of recruitment
In making its big announcement last year to implement a free-visa-free-ticket labour migration to Nepalis, the government surely had a very noble intention. Understandably, it raised the expectations of both the current and aspiring migrant workers considerably. Less than a year later, the government is prepared to make a U-turn on its promise and is likely to allow recruiting agencies to charge some processing fees. But the intervening period has not been easy for migrant workers.
Ambiguity on a low-cost regime that the government promised complicated and delayed the processing by recruitment agencies. In large part, the problem arose from the government’s failure to reach an agreement with receiving countries, except Qatar and Bahrain, on ensuring charge-free recruitment.
This case is emblematic of Nepal’s policy environment; often new policies are announced without proper homework. Clearly from a migrant’s point of view, a low-cost employment process is good. But it is also necessary to take into account the perspectives of thousands of private recruitment agencies, which sustain their operations from recruitment fees.
This is not to suggest in any way that migrant workers need to pay, only to argue that a middle way could be found that does not exploit the migrant workers, while allowing the recruitment agencies to make some profits. The government could, for example, negotiate with labour destination countries to ask the employers to bear the cost of processing for their workers.
While shedding light on the exploitation by recruitment agencies, the government also needs to introspect its responsiblity for adding to the financial burden of migrant workers. Take passport for instance: The government buys one for Rs400 from the printing company and sells for Rs5,000. For many, there are other attendant costs like travel to and accommodation in district headquarters and Kathmandu (for rapid processing of the passport). By some estimate, individuals from remote districts may end up spending up to Rs30,000 to obtain a passport.
The government is not leading by example either. For countries such as Korea and Israel where there is government-to-government agreement to send labourers, it currently charges up to Rs100,000 for visa, ticket and other fees.
There may be several steps on the way to a migrant destination where the government could assist in reducing the cost for migrant workers. The emphasis should be on making the whole process inexpensive, safe and reliable. Dogged insistence on a policy that is clearly difficult to implement does more harm than good.
The government should look at systems other countries have put in place to protect migrant workers from exploitation by middlemen—before reviewing its current position. The Indian government, for example, allows recruitment agencies to charge up to 45 days’ salary in processing fees. Rather than simply posturing, our government needs to establish a clear framework that works in favour of the migrants.